By Jim Bray
Whod have thought a Toyota Avalon would have a claim to sporty performance?
Yet thats the case with the new, third generation of Toyotas flagship
- at least if you enjoy straight line performance. The car not only comes with
an attractive new exterior coupled with a comfortable and luxurious new interior,
it also sports a new 3.5 liter V6 engine that cranks out a very pleasant 280
horses @ 6200 rpm and 260 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4700 rpm. This is enough to propel
this big car in a most satisfying manner.
That V6 comes with an intelligent electronic throttle control system, double
overhead cams and dual variable valve timing with intelligence. Its also
rated as an ultra low emissions (ULEV) engine.
Mated to that gutsy and smooth V6 is a very smooth 5-speed, Super Electronically
Controlled automatic transmission with a pretend manual mode. The manual mode
doesnt add a lot of fun to the driving experience, though its handy
for those times when youre going downhill and dont want to ride
The suspension is made up of good stuff as well, so I guess the Avalons
relatively floaty demeanor is intentional on the part of Toyota. The front
suspension is made up of Macpherson gas struts with coil springs and a stabilizer
bar, and the Avalons rump is reined in with Macpherson struts, coil springs,
multi link control arms and a stabilizer bar. The ride is comfortable and smooth
and the car does a very nice job of soaking up road irregularities.
It isnt nearly as good at straightening out curves, though.
Stopping the big Toyota are four wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic
brake force distribution. They work very well and there is good pedal feel.
My tester came with 17 inch aluminum alloy wheels and the car had the optional
vehicle skid control and advanced traction control system, a full size spare
tire and a leather and wood steering wheel.
Inside, the Avalon is roomy and plush, with all the amenities you could need.
My XLS trim level tester was loaded, with heated, power adjustable leather
seats, and power everything, including a very nice sunroof. There are attractive wood
grain accents that look quite lifelike considering they undoubtedly originated
in an extrusion or injection molding machine.
Toyota has opted to put the audio system, cup holders, and other assorted
storage places behind panels that look like stainless steel. This allows for
a very smooth and uncluttered appearance to the interior, though it also means
you have to take an extra step to get at the stuff, pressing a piece of trim
on the panel that also doubles as the latch. I opted to just leave the darn
things open and enjoy the bells and whistles. Alas, the door gets in the way
of loading and unloading compact discs into the 6 disc changer, though it isnt
a major hassle.
The upgraded stereo in my tester was pretty good, though by no
means the best Ive heard in a car. Not even close. Its from JBL,
who are famous for their speakers, and includes an 8 channel amplifier, 12
speakers and a subwoofer. Its quite well laid out and easy to use. Audio
and HVAC controls are duplicated on the steering wheel.
The Avalon features automatic climate control with dual zones, and it works
very well. And get this, the rear seats recline and that, combined with the
rear seats overall comfort and the cars placid ride, means theyre
a good place to catch a cat nap on a long trip.
Gone from the new model is Toyotas optional front bench seat and column-mounted
shifter, and thats just as well in my never humble opinion.
Safety equipment abounds, including dual stage front airbags, and the usual
assortment of bags and belts.
This third generation Avalon is a major upgrade, indeed, but its still
an Avalon and that means it isnt meant to stir the soul of a wannabe
racer. That isnt the Avalons mandate, of course, and thats
fine. But the car confuses me a bit. The Lexus GS300 AWD I drove the week before I tried
the Avalon is a much nicer car (and, for about thirty grand more, it should
be!), but the supposedly sporty Lexus sedans response when spurred on
by the gas pedal is more sedate than what you get from this big, supposedly
dignified sedan. What gives? Has the world gone flip flop?
Anyway, Toyotas folk have done an excellent job of addressing my biggest
complaint about the previous generations of Avalon: their appearance. Beauty
is in the eye of the beholder, of course, and Ive always thought the
Avalon to be the most repellent of Toyotas sedans, a big slab of car
with a front end (especially on the second generation) reminiscent of a cow
catcher or maybe a battering ram.
The new Avalon is still a big car, but it comes clothed in a very handsome
new skin that reminds me a bit of the new Cadillac models, but smoother, and
with a healthy dose of the Camry thrown in, but more attractive than Toyotas
That description probably doesnt do the Avalon justice, though. It is
indeed a very handsome car, one I wouldnt be and wasnt embarrassed
to have parked outside my house.
But its still a bit of a boat, because as modern and pleasant as this
car is, a spirited driving experience it is not.
On the other hand, I suppose that depends on what youre looking for
in a driving experience. If you desire something you can point forward and
will take you from point A to point B comfortably and
reliably, you probably cant go wrong with the Avalon. It is a very nice
car in that respect. But if youre looking for something to quicken your
pulse on the twisty bits, best to look elsewhere.
That leaves a huge potential audience for the Avalon, of course, because many
people dont care if their car is a rocket sled.
We took the Avalon for a weekend trip to visit my brother and it was probably
the perfect car for such a trip. Our route was multi lane divided highway with
few curves a totally boring drive in any vehicle and the Avalon
ate up the miles happily and transported us in first class comfort and ease
and we arrived fresh and ready to party. And that is undoubtedly what Toyota
and Avalon owners want.
So if youre looking for a full size car thatll get you where you
want to go with no fuss, has Toyotas famous quality, and you dont
care if itll carve up curves like a Formula 1 race car, this new Avalon
may be just what the doctor ordered.